The Chicago Bulls continue their longest road trip of the season tonight against the red hot Denver Nuggets in the Mile High city. The Bulls are coming fresh off of a painful loss to the Indiana Pacers in which the Bulls' 41 game streak of games won when scoring 100 points came to an end. Unfortunately without that little tidbit, there isn't too much narrative coming into this game.
Coming into tonight, the Nuggets have been one of the league's best teams in a variety of ways. By the numbers, they're one of the best offensive teams, as they are averaging approximately 104 points per game, good enough for third best in the league, while boasting the sixth most efficient offense in the league. The Nuggets are also one of the top rebounding teams this season posting up the second best per game average in the league. Denver is especially dangerous on the offensive glass where they've been rebounding 31% of all offensive rebound opportunities given to them, good enough for second best in the league behind Memphis. And strong ball movement and unselfish play from everyone in the team has Denver as one of league's best passing teams.
Adding to the numbers, the Nuggets are one of the league's hottest teams having won 13 of their last 15 games and are also one of the league's best teams at home.
As a Bulls fan, I realize that I shouldn't put too much stock into those numbers. Somehow coach Tom Thibodeau always has the Bulls in contention to win games despite how bleak things look. But tonight may be especially bad considering all the injuries Chicago has.
On a normal day, I would look at Denver's scoring output and think nothing of it. Chicago has one of the best defenses in the league, and they can normally shut down opposing offenses. That is,when they are healthy. Tonight the Bulls will be without starting guard Kirk Hinrich who, as much as I hate to admit, is a fairly smart defender. While I do harp Hinrich on his inability to stay in front of most defenders, I have to give him credit for playing physical defense and doing a good job on pick and roll defense, often times getting through the screen quickly or cutting off the roll by the big man.
The potential absence of Joakim Noah, who is currently listed as day to day, is potentially the biggest blow for Chicago on defense. We've all seen the impact Noah has on this team's defense, just look at games that Noah has missed or where he had to sit out. Without Noah on the floor, guards have a much easier time penetrating the paint for layups and big men have an easier time posting up. According to Nba.Com's advanced statistics, without Noah on the floor Chicago gives up approximately 8 more points per game. For a team starved for offense, that is simply something they cannot get away with, especially with no backup center to take over if needed (miss you Omer).
Offensively, things don't look good for Chicago either. As it is the Bulls have one of the worst offenses in the league, Carlos Boozer, Maro Belnelli could leave Chicago looking as bad as Atlanta. In the previous game, Boozer did play through his recent hamstring injury but was very inefficient. Moving up and down the floor he was slow and he just couldn't muster up the leg strength needed to shoot his elbow jumper effectively. As far as Belinelli goes, I would normally consider his ankle injury something that neither helps nor hurts Chicago, but given the circumstances it definitely hurts. Assuming Chicago is forced to go without Boozer, Noah, Belinelli, and Hinrich, Chicago is left with a six man rotation. In case you didn't realize, a rotation that small for 48 minutes on the fourth road game in a row is never a good thing for either side of the ball.
The deck is stacked against the Bulls tonight but, as I said in the very beginning, this is a Tom Thibodeau coached team. You could put this injury-riddled lineup against most teams in the league and they would still miraculously find a way to keep themselves in it. We'll just have to see what unfolds tonight.
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